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Nurses (Pension Scheme)

Volume 961: debated on Wednesday 24 January 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representation he has received from the Royal College of Nursing regarding anomalies in the pension scheme for certain nurses; if he will take urgent steps to relieve this problem; and if he will make a statement.

Representations have been made to me about the lower pension expectations of nurses, part of whose service has been covered by FSSN policies, as compared with those who have contributed throughout to the NHS scheme; and that this situation has been thrown into relief by an arrangement made in 1977 for NHS staff who were then FSSN or other policy scheme members or had been members in 1974 while employed in the community nursing services by local authorities but were compulsorily transferred into the NHS under the Reorganisation Act 1974. The arrangement was that, on opting to transfer to the NHS superannuation scheme, they would surrender their policies to the Secretary of State in exchange for a back-service credit—in most cases of nine years for 10—as recommended by the Government Actuary; and we have been asked now to allow a once-for-all option for nurses not covered by that arrangement to transfer their service frozen in FSSN into the NHS Superannuation Scheme on a basis to be determined.We have undertaken to look into this request. I think it is only right, however, to say that there may be serious difficulties about it. Membership of the main NHS superannuation scheme is a normal requirement for nurses and past service could be covered by a policy-based scheme such as FSSN only where the person concerned took up employment outside the NHS or where the person concerned had joined the NHS while already a member of such a scheme and had formally elected to remain in membership of it instead of joining the main NHS scheme. Nurses with frozen FSSN policies are in this position, therefore, in consequence of a past decision about employment or about superannuation arrangements freely taken by them and it would be quite out of keeping with normal superannuation principles to allow people who have once exercised a free choice at a later date to change their mind, with retrospective effect, fundamentally on the basis that with hindsight the choice they had originally made was not the right one. In this connection, I stress that the purpose of the 1977 arrangement was in no way to improve the superannuation benefits overall of policy scheme members but to enable such people, like other NHS staff, to be contracted out from the new State scheme from April 1978 and also to avoid the situation that from 1980 they might in consequence of other government legislation lose the tax concessions on their superannuation contributions.